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The first crucial element of your mix is the relative volume between all the tracks in your project. Each track in your project, contains an audio signal that flows from one stage to the next, eventually getting to the final output. Let's make sure we understand the order and signal flow of the tracks so we can optimize them. The volume level of an audio track begins at the source, the audio region in the track. All regions are going to have different inherent levels depending on how they are recorded, but before the signal reaches the Track Fader, it goes through the plug-ins.
The plug-ins work top down. The top plug-ins first, then the plug-in below that, and so on. After the signal goes through each plug- in, which can have an effect on the level, it then goes to the Track Fader, where you can adjust the level even more. Once it goes through the Track Fader, the signal goes to the main Output. This gives you another opportunity to change the level. Finally, the signal gets to the hardware Output. This what gain stages means. Each stop along this path can have an effect over the overall level as it goes through. Plug-ins can have a dramatic effect on the level of the signal before it reaches the fader.
For example, on a snare track we have a channel EQ. I'll double-click it to open it. This EQ is boosting some of the frequencies around 100 Hz and around 5000 Hz. Because we are boosting here, the overall level might be louder after it leaves this plug-in. You have to be careful of this. Let's take a listen to the snare part in this song. (Music playing.) As you can see, the overall level coming out is fine.
It's not clipping or anything. But let's take a look at the Rhodes track. These two tracks both have a compressor on them. Let's hit play again to hear those. (Music playing.) Before we inserted the compressor tracks, the level was fine. But now, as we can see by the red light on the tracks, it's clipping. Any time you get a red on a track it means the track is clipped. The number indicates how far over it's clipped. The second track has clipped 6 dB above the top.
Individual track clipping a little is okay. There's plenty of headroom in Logic's mixer, but you have to watch out for the level on the main Output. In this case, it's clipping a little too much. So, now we want to bring down the track volume, bring it down to at least 6 dB, so you get under the clipping point. (Music playing.) That looks good. This brings up a good point. Don't always trust the meters. They lie. Our ears are the things to trust.
I turned on the Rhodes track until it's sounding good in the mix to me. That's the way you should do it to. Don't let the numbers fool you. Software instrument tracks don't have Audio Regions on them. So, the volume level on them starts with the output volume of the software instrument itself. This project has some software instrument tracks, these ones in pink. In the case of the N_Beat 1 track, the volume begins with the output of the software instrument inserted on the track, it's Ultrabeat. Let's double-click it. Like most software instruments, Ultrabeat has a main master volume.
It's up here in the top left. It's at about halfway right now. From here, the signal, like audio tracks, is routed through the plug-ins. This track has three plug-ins. So, remember the signal level first goes to the Ensemble, then to the Phaser - these are different plug-ins - then to the compressor, finally to the fader and then to the main output. So, you have to be careful along the way about how loud each of these plug-ins is set. Now we can talk about the final Output. This is an important fader, because it's meter shows the summed output of all the tracks routed to Output 1-2.
Remember how I set it's okay to clip track faders? You don't want to clip the output fader. Clipping here means you'll have distorted audio on your final mix. As you can see, it's clipped a tiny bit. How do we fix it? The instinct most people have is just to turn this track down. I don't recommend this. You should keep your output fader at unity, or zero, and adjust your individual tracks until this track's meter doesn't clip. How close should we get to it clipping? We shouldn't get very close. Making a song loud is done in the mastering stage of your project workflow, and that comes after you mix.
In fact, you want to leave headroom here as much as you can. I suggest not going to much into the yellow and that's it. (Music playing.) Now something there in the chorus is clipping the output. I have a feeling it might be the Harp, because that seems pretty loud. We'll turn that down. We'll also turn the Rhodes down a little bit, maybe the Bass a teeny bit and the Vocals a little bit. Now lets see if it doesn't clip to output meter. (Music playing.) That's right about the level you want to have your output meter sitting at.
Remember, when setting levels, meters are useful for telling us when something is clipping, but not much else. Trust your ears. If it sounds too loud, it probably is too loud. Those are good words of advice when you're mixing.
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